Sunday, August 3, 2008

Moving Margin Notes.

Same kitchen.

Same writing room.

New blog address:

The sublime Sonia Simone of Remarkable Communications recently convinced me that Margin Notes needed to relocate. After I agreed, I nursed this lovely fantasty that once she and her team had done all the heavy lifting she'd fly from Colorado to California and sit by my side and guide my astonishingly-non-techy self through the final steps. No, I take that back. I'd hoped she 'd sit here in my study and do every single bit of the work on the first few posts herself while I played with her adorable three-year-old at the park.
Maybe even more than the first few posts. Maybe until her spawn turned into an adorable four-year-old.
Now that I've released this fantasy into the ether, I'm going to have to sit at this desk alone and actually create posts and they may be a bit, uh, funky for a while.
But, please, come on over to Margin Notes's new home. Once I figure out what-the-hell I'm doing I have some delicious stuff to share, including a recipe for the much-lauded butterscotch souffle from Murray Circle at Cavallo Point and a "4 Questions 4" from 2-star Michelin chef David Kinch of Manresa.
And, Sonia, it's not too late to book tickets.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Beach Too Far

One way I torture myself is by asking people about great places to eat even when I know said places are going to be geographically challenging. I mean, I'd love to go to Australia's Bondi Beach this winter, escaping the Bay Area cold rains for some Sydney sunshine, but it's not gonna happen. Yet Nigella made a little spot there called Sean's Panaroma sound so enticing I felt compelled to learn more about it.
To my great joy, I found chef-owner Sean Moran had written a cookbook called "let it simmer" -- a book filled with enticing recipes and photographs of food he describes as "Anglo-Italian...based on Australia's freshest seasonal produce."

I've only had the book a few days but I've already had one smashing culinary success from it: my version of Moran's "Good Chook, Roasted with Oregano." I used a plump organic chicken and substitued sarriette for the oregano, but stayed true to one essential ingredient: duck fat.
I'm not going to give you Moran's full recipe, partly because I think you should buy the book for yourself and partly because I do not love typing out long recipes, but if you just use this under-the-skin stuffing and your usual way of roasting a chicken you'll still have a very special dish.

Sean Moran's Orgasmically Good Roast Chicken Enhancer aka Damned Delicious Duck Fat
2 cloves garlic
2 generous handfuls oregano [Margin Note: fresh, of course. I substituted sarriette, aka summer savory, because my herb garden had lots of it and pitifully little oregano]
Freshly ground pepper
2 heaped tablespoons duck fat or butter [M.N.: forget that "or butter" bit; use the duck fat]

Peel the garlic cloves and pick oregano leaves, then grind to a smooth paste in a mortar and pestle with a generous pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper. Mix duck fat through paste.
With legs of the chook pointing towards you, slip your fingers under the breast skin to free it from the flesh, pushing carefully all the way down to the wing-bone joint on both sides, then slide seasoned fat under the skin, being careful not to puncture as you go.
Let set a bit while the juices settle.
Carve and enjoy.

I found the next day's leftovers to be almost as wonderful as the just-from-the-oven meat.
And I still wish someone would whisk me off to Bondi Beach next November.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

4 Questions 4 Nigella Lawson

I've said it before: the single best day of my freelance writing life was the one I spent shopping and cooking with Nigella Lawson.

When I started this blog -- exactly one year ago today -- my friend Randall asked: "Is it going to be . . . more »

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Pigging Out

After living through a tad too much drama last summer with the cooking of a whole lamb, J and I turned to a pro this year, perusading our friend Tom McNary, the brilliant chef at Carried Away in Aptos, to perform the . . . more »

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Dinner Party, June 2008

Note to Self: When you get a great dinner partner, shut up and let him talk.

[photo by Dennis Lenehan]

Monday, June 30, 2008

Pretty in Pork

Recently Michael Ruhlman blogged about staple meals:

I’m fascinated by what America eats at home—not by what people serve at a dinner party or the latest favorite recipe they’ve found, but rather by what America’s default meals are. What are the meals you return to again and again—meals that are economical, quick, taste good, feel good, meals you make without having to think much?
One of Ruhlman's staple meals centers on chicken, but at our house, pork is often the go-to protein--most often a small stuffed roast. My butcher shop labels the cut a . . . more »

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Seattle Souvenir

This appeared in today's San Francisco Chronicle Food & Wine Newsletter. If you like mussels and LOVE bacon, you'll join me in applauding the Seattle chef who created this quick and easy dish.


Seattle-Style Mussels
By Casey Ellis, Chronicle contributor

My husband and his relatives have always loved to schlep edible souvenirs home from trips. They tuck cheeses into carry-on bags, stuff sausages into briefcases and devote extensive duffel bag space to jars of olives and pickles.

Grandpa Koch once packed a large, frozen . . . more »

Monday, June 16, 2008

Radish Reversal

Tucked into a farro and vegetables salad at La Posta recently (Yes, I do, too, eat at other restaurants, but I seem to get more ideas here to use at home), I discovered sweet young radishes with their greenery still attached. J suggested that the cook had blanched the greens by suspending them upside down in boiling water while holding the radishes high and dry.
I scoffed.
Chef Chris Avila said that was exactly what had occurred.
I hate it when J is right in cooking disputes.
The radish greens in the photo took about 45 seconds to achieve tenderness -- or, as J said: "to fry off the frizz."
For a second batch, I clasped the radish bodies in metal tongs, not as picturesque, but less likely to cause a steam singe to my hand.

Monday, June 9, 2008

In love with restaurants from an early age:

The Stork Club, Manhattan, about 1952.

Waiter: "And what will the young gentleman have?"
My brother, Don : "What do you have?"
Waiter: "The Stork Club has everything."
Don: "Then I'll have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

Which, after a bit of a delay, was delivered to him. My grandparents -- who believed in taking children to good restaurants early and often -- later told me the kitchen had sent someone out to the corner market to buy a jar of peanut butter.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Crazy about Cardamom

I tend to get crushes on certain recipes, falling in love with particular flavor combinations and cooking them over and over. My children used to greet new dishes with "This is good, Mom, but don't go crazy with it." Translation: "We don't want to eat it 3 or 4 times a week for the next couple months."

Sometimes the dishes igniting my infatuation are elaborate; other times, quite simple. This fennel treatment falls firmly into the latter category. It comes from Tamasin Day-Lewis's marvelous "The Art of the Tart." Intended to be swathed in creme fraiche and Taleggio cheese and baked into a tart, these fennel slices taste terrific as a side dish on their own.
And, a note to my grown and living-on-their-own children: I've been serving this only once a week.
Well, twice at the most. It's just so easy and so crazy-good.

Sauteed Fennel with Cardamom
3-4 bulbs fennel
2 Tb. butter
4 Tb. each olive oil, white wine and water
The crushed seeds of 8 cardamom pods

Remove the tough outer layers of the fennel (saving some of the fronds), then quarter the bulbs and slice thickly. Put the fennel into a heavy-bottomed skillet with the butter, olive oil, wine, water and cardamom seeds.
Bring to bubbling, reduce to simmering, cover with a lid, and cook gently until the fennel is no longer resistant even at the core, about 10-15 minutes. Remove it with a slotted spoon, reserve, and bubble the juices until stickily reduced and syrupy.
Pour the juices over the fennel and sprinkle with some of the chopped, feathery fronds.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Jam Time

The hand that stirs the jam pot rules the kitchen.
(At least for a day.)

I love eating -- and hate making -- jam, so I'm wildly grateful that J enjoys the whole lengthy, oft-messy procedure. After Saturday's session with seven pounds of apricots, he not only cleaned up afterwards but also typed up the recipe. I may have to stay married to him for another 45 years.

Jack's Astonishingly-Delicious Apricot Jam

7 lbs apricots, not too ripe
8 cups sugar
1 lemon, whole, but peel removed
Cheesecloth and cotton string

Split apricots lengthwise and pit --reserve pits -- and place 2/3 of the fruit in a
large mixing bowl, reserving the rest. Cover with the sugar and squeeze the lemons into the bowl thru a sieve. Stir the mixture and set aside for 15 minutes.
Place sufficient well-washed canning jars and lids on a cookie sheet in a 225 deg. oven for at least 15 minutes.
Cut the lemon into 1/8ths and tie inside a cheescloth bag with a long cotton string.

Take the apricot and sugar mixture, which should have liquified, and place in a large stainless or copper pot. Set over high heat until the mixture boils; then reduce heat to medium, but keep a high boil. Toss in the cheesecloth with the lemon carcasses and seeds inside and tie the string to a handle. Boil the mixture about 20minutes, stirring frequently. It will create considerable foam and must not boil over, so control the fire.

When the foam starts to subside, add the reserved apricots.
While the jam is cooking, place the apricot pits on a heavy wooden chopping block and strike them gently with a hammer to crack them open. Remove the white kernels.
(This takes some practice to prevent kernel-smashing.)

Chop the kernels into fine dice, and add them to the pot once the reserved apricots have softened.
[Margin Note: Don't skip this step. The chopped kernel bits give the jam a nice almondy undernote as well as a bit of appealing crunch.]
Squeeze the cheesecloth bag against the side of the kettle to release the pectin from the lemons; remove the bag and discard.
Now test the jam for temperature and thickness. It should read 218-220 degrees with a candy or instant thermometer. Lacking one of these, take a small saucer from the freezer and drop a large drop of jam on it. Return to the freezer for 2 minutes and then push against it with a spoon. If done, the jam drop will wrinkle.
When thickened to your liking, remove from the fire and fill the canning jars hot from the oven with the jam to within 1/2 inch of the top. (A canning funnel helps.) Immediately seal the jars with a canning lid and ring and set aside to cool. When the jam cools, the jar lids should audibly pop to their sealed position. If this doesn't occur, refrigerate and use within a week or two.
[Margin Note: This is not a hardship. I've gone through half a jar in 3 days.]

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Forget-You-Not the Flowers

I made a significant sacrifice Saturday night: I shared the last of our chive flowers with dinner guests. Sprinkled over slices of yellow tomatoes, the purple petals provided both color contrast and a lovely light onion flavor.
Although the chive blossoms are gone, deeper purple flowers still top our sage stalks (particularly nice for garnishing cream soups) and before long the basil plants will provide small white flowers to scatter on sauteed zucchini ribbons and rounds of grilled eggplant.
I've garnished my warm-weather fare with these three herb flowers for years, but a recent visit to Love Apple Farm made me realize I've been overlooking other great sources of culinary flower power. J and I were wandering amidst Cynthia's meticulously manicured garden beds and noted a parsley patch that had gone to seed."Isn't this due to be pulled?" J asked, to which Cynthia replied, "No, David wants the flowers and the seed heads."
A big bed of rocket abloom with white flowers? Same answer. Coriander seed heads? Destined for a squash pudding amuse-bouche at Manresa.

When a two-star Michelin chef grants amnesty to elderly herb and lettuce crops I'd have condemned to the compost pile, I start wondering what I've been wasting from our garden.

So now we're letting the French dandelion flower -- I garnished a platter of poached salmon with the pale blue flowers -- and I'm experimenting with the intensely flavored yellow seed heads from purple mizuna.

My new cooking-from-the-garden motto: If you liked the leaves you're gonna love the flowers.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Green Grows the Garlic

A brief post today because much of my time and energy is being consumed with caring for a sweet little boy felled by a shitty big virus. His mother graduates this week with a degree in graphic design (she did this blog's banner) and is slaving away at the installation of the Senior Design Show. While she paints and hammers and worries, I spoon pedialyte into a sad little mouth, sponge a hot little body and worry.
But I did want to report on the deliciousness of the green garlic dip in Daniel Patterson's article in the Sunday NYT Magazine.

I served it with raw florets of orange cauliflower (bought that morning at the Palo Alto farmers' market) rather than with artichokes, but I have enough left over to serve with chokes once I have time to cook again. For now, I need a blood-rare hamburger and a glass of Merlot. Maybe two glasses of Merlot

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tomato Wars

J and I generally agree on the big marital issues: sex, money, travel destinations and the importance of always owning at least two dogs. But seemingly minor matters occasionally rock our relationship; high on the list is his insistence on purchasing crappy tomatoes.
I was taught at an early age that beef should be served rare, broccoli is bearable if blanketed in Hollandaise and tomatoes should be eaten only when they've been ripened on the vine, picked in the morning and bought at a New Jersey farm stand in the afternoon. Consequently, although I grew up in suburban Philadelphia, I ate tomatoes only at the Jersey shore and only from late June through September.
When The Jerseys came in, we ate them every day. Dinner began only after the pitcher of iced tea and the platter of sliced tomatoes were on the table.

The first time J brought home hothouse tomatoes I restrained my horror and asked him not to do so again. I explained that these flavorless orbs had no place in our kitchen, that I was morally opposed to the encouragement of picking green tennis balls and then gas-ing them into faux ripeness, and that some foods are worth waiting many months for. He nodded and the next time he went to the store he bought tomatoes. In December.
After decades of marriage, I've given up. He buys tomatoes from November through May and I complain and he ignores my complaints. A truce sets in as the first local tomatoes arrive at the farmers' markets we frequent and sweet harmony reigns all summer as the dozens of tomato plants in our garden bear fruit.
Two weeks ago he brought home some sure-as-Hell-not-grown-within-a-hundred-miles tomatoes and instead of ignoring them I decided to try to make them meal-worthy. I had a round of Flo Braker's sour cream and cornmeal dough in the freezer so I planned dinner around her Cheese and Tomato Galette, which she demonstrated years ago on the Baking with Julia series on PBS.
This is not a good recipe; this is a marvelous, mood-enhancing, marriage-mending recipe. Even so-so tomatoes ascend several levels on the flavor scale within the folds of Flo's tender, buttery, lightly crunchy pastry.
You can find not only the recipe but also superb step-by-step photos for the dough here -- a new-to-me blog that I immediately added to my RSS feed.
Once you have the dough made, the galette goes together quickly.

Cheese and Tomato Galette
[adapted a bit from "Baking with Julia" by Dorie Greenspan]

1/2 recipe galette dough, chilled
2 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
2 ounces mozzarella , shredded
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade or torn
2-3 firm but ripe plum tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
Fresh basil leaves for garnish

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400-degrees F.
Roll the dough directly onto a piece of parchment paper into an 11-inch circle. (This is a soft dough; sometimes I have to stop mid-rolling and put it into the fridge for a bit to firm up. )
Toss the cheeses and basil pieces together in a small bowl. Scatter the mixture over the dough, leaving a 2- to 3- inch border. Place the tomatoes in slightly overlapping concentric circles atop the cheese.
Fold the uncovered dough border up over the filling, allowing the dough to pleat as you lift it up and work your way around the galette. This happens naturally.
If you see a rerun of the PBS show you'll see that Flo's pastry pleats look like the hem of a Givenchy gown while mine, above, look like a sewing project from a junior high Home Ec class. If your tart look more like mine than Flo's, fear not. It still will taste sublime.
Bake the galette for 35-40 minutes or until the pastry is golden and crisp and the cheese is bubbly. Transfer the entire baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the galette rest on the sheet for 10 minutes. Slip a wide spatula or a small rimless baking sheet under the galette and slide it onto a second cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with fresh basil leaves. Better served the day it is made; best served within an hour or two of baking.

Because I was working with what I had on hand, I used feta cheese instead of the Monterey Jack and mozzarella. Different but still delicious.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

On My Coffee Table

I usually don't play the meme game, but I couldn't resist this one from the Gorgeous Redhead at Gorgeous Things. Gorgeous Things is a sewing blog -- elegant, near-couture-level plumage. Those who know me well would be astonished that I hang out there, seeing as I haven't threaded a needle since The Horror that was Home Ec Class. How did I even find her blog?
I fell in love with her posts at Project Rungay, where her avatar shows her ear lobe to ear lobe with my boyfriend, Tim Gunn. (Does Tim know he's my boyfriend? No, but I plan to enlighten him soon. I'm confident he'll be thrilled.)

So: the rules:
1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

I'd been reading "Don't Try This at Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs" edited by Kimberly Witherspoon and Andrew Friedman. For a brief moment I considered cheating on the page # here--just a few digits lower would have put me into a Tamasin essay, but I'll do the right thing.
From "Hope for Snow," by Seattle chef and restaurateur Tom Douglas.

After the anger toward my pregnant wife subsided for "making it snow," I had a lemons-into-lemonade moment. Saigon Restaurant in the Pike Place Market, one of my favorite little holes in the wall, makes a delicious bowl of pork wonton soup. This must have been my inspiration, because somewhere during the first hour of service it occurred to me to make a lobster sausage with raw lobster meat and to fill wonton wrappers -- which we happened to have a case of in the refrigerator.

A nice little essay. But if you buy the book, DO NOT MISS Tamasin's chapter: an account of cooking a pheasant dinner in her Cambridge dormitory room. With a brace of pheasants that had gone hideously, maggotty bad.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Conversation with the Chef

Another book recommendation, this one from Chris Avila, the chef at Soif and La Posta in Santa Cruz.
J and I were ensconced in our favorite table at La Posta, right between the front window and the bar, and Chris was polishing wine glasses while we polished off a platter of potato gnocchi with duck ragu.

We were chatting about restaurants and recipe sources when Chris said, "Let me show you the book where I found the recipe for tonight's dessert." He went back into the kitchen and returned with "Cucina of Le Marche" by Fabio Trabocchi.
As soon as I got home that evening I ordered a copy and when it arrived I found it contained not only the dessert recipe but also one for the gnocchi.

For the latter you'll have to buy your own copy, but here's the orange and raisin bread, described by Trabocchi as "unquestionably the most popular dessert in all of Le Marche."

[Sweet Orange and Raisin Bread]

1 1/2 cups dark raisins
1 1/2 cups finely diced candied orange peel
1/2 cup Italian anise liquer
7 cups Italian 00 flour or bread flour
3/4 pound unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
15 large egg yolks
grated zest of 3 lemons
Grated zest of 4 oranges
1 1/2 cups whole milk

Combine the raisins and candied orange peel in a small bowl, pour in the liquer, and let soak for 30 minutes.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350-degrees F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and set aside.
Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until smooth and pale. Reduce the speed to low and add the yolks, a few at a time, and then the zest, mixing until incorporated.

Alternately add the milk and the flour mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Switch to the dough hook and, with the mixture on low speed, add the raisins and candied orange, with the soaking liquid. Mix until fully incorporated.
Generously flour a work surface. Place the dough on the work surface and shape it into a loaf about 14 inches long. Place it on the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with sugar.
Bake the bread for 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Chef Avila used golden raisins instead of dark and served the bread slices with a ramekin of homemade strawberry jam. A sweet finale to another splendid Sunday night supper at La Posta.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Brilliantly British

According to my brother, I was born bossy. Since he didn't enter the world until I was nearly four, he clearly exaggerates. I prefer to describe myself as evangelical about my enthusiasms. When I find a book I love, for instance, I want others to love it too. Lots of others.

Right now I'm preaching the virtues of "The Pedant in the Kitchen" by Julian Barnes -- a mini-book brimming with wit and wisdom. The much-honored author of "Flaubert's Parrot," "Arthur and George" and "Nothing to be Frightened of" describes himself as "a late-onset cook" who now cooks with pleasure, but "tense pleasure."

In the kitchen I am an anxious pedant. I adhere to gas marks and cooking times. I trust instruments rather than myself. I doubt I shall ever test whether a chunk of meat is done by prodding it with my forefinger. The only liberty I take with a recipe is to increase the quantity of an ingredient of which I particularly approve. That this is not an infallible precept was confirmed by an epically filthy dish I once made involving mackerel, Martini and breadcrumbs: the guests were more drunk than sated.

I admit to a positive prejudice towards British food writers. If you've read previous posts here you know I love Nigella, Nigel, Tamasin and the ladies of The River Cafe. Barnes's writing centers on novels, short stories and literary essays rather than cookery, but I find his tales of the kitchen just as irresistable as those of my other favorite Brits.

One more excerpt to whet your book-buying appetite;
Like most people I annotate my cookbooks -- ticks, crosses, exclamation marks, emendations, and suggestions for next time. In certain cases next time is never. My annotation of [Richard] Olney's Courgette Pudding Souffle (and I apologize in advance for the language) goes as follows: This dinner for two took me four hours, The mouli doesn't work as he says, and on turning out the souffle collapses flat and the sauce becomes a quarter deep layer on top of it, i.e. a fucking disaster, But all the same: fucking delicious.

In defense of Olney's recipe, Barnes admits he failed to use the right sort of mold. A dish designed to be cooked in a ring mold rarely transfers happily to a different type of pan. But doesn't the above make you want to sit in Barnes's kitchen and peruse the rest of his margin notes?
If you aren't invited to his home in the near future, your next best course is to treat yourself to a copy of "The Pedant in the Kitchen." It's a small book, with a small price tag, packed with entertaining prose. As soon as I finish writing this I'm going to call my brother and command him to buy a copy.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Food Festival: Finale


Because our own garden is rich with lettuces and herbs right now, we didn't buy much produce at the Ferry Building Farmers' Market -- a couple of apples, a few fava beans, some heirloom tomatoes -- but filled our shopping bags instead with organic lamb and pork, several loaves of bread and eggs with pastel shells and deep orange yolks. But my favorite items came from the sublime Boulettes Larder.
By shortly after 10 am the little shop already had sold out of the stuffed quails I'd had my taste buds set on, but there was still a thick slice of pork rillettes available, as well as canneles as good as any I've eaten in France and some muhammara -- a Middle Eastern red pepper, walnuts and pomegranate molasses spread I adore.
Since we finished off the muhammara within a few days, I've been experimenting with making my own. So far, I like best this recipe from Paula Wolfert, found on David Leite's excellent website, Culinaria.

And since the two canneles lasted only a couple of hours after our arrival home, I'm contemplating making a batch of them as well -- although they'll require considerably more time and culinary skill than making muhammara does. I have the molds -- bought in Paris -- but not sure I have the requisite patience.

Oh, and if you think I bought this cheese mostly because I loved the label, you think the truth.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I've always believed

that the person running the front of the house plays a major role in a good restaurant experience. But I guess I shouldn't plan on taking the border collies to Grayz.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

4 Questions 4 Gray Kunz

When I asked my friend Eric Gower -- a chef and cookbook author blessed with an exceptionally knowedgeable and discerning palate -- who he'd like to see answer four questions, his response was immediate: "Gray Kunz. The man is a genius."

1. CE: Early in your career, why were you dissatisfied with the traditional four tastes of bitter/sour/sweet/salt?

GK: There were too many tastes in-between that were as . . . more »

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Food Festival, part the second

After a breakfast of good eggs, great bacon and lousy service at Market Bar, J and I filled a few shopping bags at the Ferry Building Farmers' Market and then headed to Berkeley. Specifically to the parking lot of J's favorite wine merchant, Kermit Lynch, where he and Cafe Fanny were hosting Oyster Bliss XVII.
Lynch's flyer had read:

Iced oysters of the half shell and the wines to go with. "Bring 'em on," in the words of the courageous warrior chief known as The Decider. But when we say bring 'em on, we mean oysters and lofts of 'em. And why not some hot little grilled Bordeaux-style sausages on the side? As for the crisp, cold, minerally, dry white wines that go with, leave that to me. I'll be the decider.

The oysters were cold and sweet, the sausages (from Eccolo restaurant) hot and savory and the wines wonderful with both.

And although Cafe Fanny offered five or six different desserts, I knew instantly I'd select the same sweet I'd had at Oyster Bliss XVI: a wide wedge of strawberry-rhubarb galette. Perfection on a paper plate.

Note to Cafe Fanny: promise me that this galette will be back for Oyster Bliss XVIII. Thanks in advance.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Got plastic bags? Re-use 'em!

Cabrillo College Farmers' Market

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I left my waistline in San Francisco

I'm sitting here staring at my lunch -- two hard-boiled eggs and a WASA cracker --while savoring memories of last weekend's food festival. Between noon Friday and one o'clock Saturday I had lunch at The Four Seasons, dinner at Salt House, breakfast the next morning at Market Bar, one perfect macaron at Miette for elevenses followed by lunch at Kermit Lynch's annual Oyster Bliss.
And then I went home and took a nap.

Friday's lunch was a belated birthday celebration with my favorite interior designer. An excellent but light salmon tartare with a watercress mayonnaise left room for two desserts -- shared, please note. Warm chocolate cake is a cliche,but this one was nicely done--with a touch of caramel sauce, which is always a good idea (The strawberries, however, were not Four Seasons worthy.) The blueberry supposed-to-be-financiere was less successful -- a pleasant enough little teacake, but lacking the almondy depth of a true financiere. "Blueberry porridge," sneered the designer. Despite these small flaws, the overall experience -- particularly the high level of the service -- was lovely.

At dinner time J and I walked from our hotel to Salt Box and the look on J's face when we arrived was one I know well --somewhere between mild apprehension and Edvard Munch's "The Scream." The entry space was tiny, the TGIF bar crowd huge and the noise level at 6 or 7 Chronicle bells. But the host led us immediately to a nice window-side table, our server was able to answer all our menu queries and she was prompt with the wine.
From there things just got better and better. My crispy shrimp with (very) spicy green beans, almonds and serrano ham was terrific and J loved the crispy egg with bacon, spring onions and English p--s. (MN: see final sentence in the "About" sidebar.)

Our entrees were superb: dayboat scallops with smoked trout, parsnip-bacon cake and manilla clams and, pictured below, petrale sole with artichokes, preserved lemon and a shellfish jus.

Perfect little linzer cookies accompanied an individual trifle for dessert. An altogether interesting and delicious meal.

To be continued...

Monday, April 14, 2008

4 Questions 4 Tamasin Day-Lewis

At the beginning of February I wrote about Tamasin Day-Lewis's wonderful book, "Where Shall We Go for Dinner?" And now I'm eagerly awaiting an even newer work: a big fat compendium of her recipes -- 1,000 of them -- titled "All You Can Eat," due in May. To complete my personal Tamasin triathlon, she recently agreed to answer four questions. I could have asked her a thousand.

1. CE: Last year, I had a wonderful biking trip in Puglia including a delicious multi-course meal at the home of a man active in the Slow Food movement.

I know from "Where Shall We Go for Dinner?" that most of your culinary experiences in the region weren't nearly as happy. Was that one of your worst food trips?

TDL: No, the trip to Puglia was hellishly . . . more »

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Cake for Company

Since I knew they were comin' I baked a cake.
And because they were coming from across the country (and, in the case of one of them, from across a lot of years) I wanted it to be wonderful. When I want wonderful, I frequently turn to Nigella.

Nigella Lawson's Clementine Cake
from "How to Eat"
4-5 clementines, about 1 pound total weight)
[Margin Note: Since clementines' brief season had passed, I used tangerines. Nigella notes that you also can use an equal weight of oranges]
6 eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 + 1/3 cups ground almonds
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder

Put the clementines in a pot with cold water to cover; bring to the boil and cook for two hours. Drain, and, when cool, cut each fruit in half and remove the seeds.
Then chop everything finely -- skins,pith, fruit -- in the processor (or by hand, of course).

Preheat the overn to 375-degrees F. Butter and line an 8-inch springform pan. [M.N.: I buttered but did not line. I should have lined.]
Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add the sugar, almonds and baking powder. Mix well, adding the chopped clementines. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for an hour, when a skewer will come out clean; you'll probably have to cover the cake with foil after about 40 minutes to stop the top burning. [M.N.: My cake was done in a little over 50 minutes. Start skewer-testing early.]
Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a rack -- but in the pan -- until cake is completely cold. I think this is better a day after it's made, but I don't complain about eating it any time.[M.N.: I think it's a *lot* better the day after it's made, which inspires me to get it done ahead, saving both prep and clean-up time the day of a dinner party.]

Nigella calls this "the easiest cake I know." Hmmm. I think Sylvia Vaughn Thompson's Fresh Ginger Cake might be easier -- it's certainly quicker -- but I'll concede that the clementine cake is even more delicious. Almost as delicious as spending a long food-and-wine-filled evening with old and new friends.

Postscript:Why no photo of the unmolded cake? Because I sent it to the living room but stayed behind in the kitchen for a few minutes to brew coffee. My plan was to join everyone, take a quick photo and then give each of them a thin, thin slice (it's a very rich cake)accompanied by a dab of lightly sweetened whipped cream and a big spoonful of raspberries.
There were eight of us. This cake easily serves 10-12. Coffee in press-filter carafes takes only a moment to make, but by the time I rejoined the party, Someone had whacked it into eight big pieces and served all but mine.
I try -- in this day of moderate eating and controlled sugar consumption -- not to force feed a guest a horse-choking-size piece of cake. No one, however, complained. And there were no leftovers.

Monday, April 7, 2008

4 Questions 4 Hubert Keller

If I were going to cast a movie set in an elegant French restaurant I'd pound my desktop and bellow to my minions: "Get me Hubert Keller!"
And if said minions had been to San Francisco's Fleur de Lys, met the tall and handsome Keller and his stylish wife, Chantal, and enjoyed the food in the restaurant's gorgeous fabric-draped dining room, they'd immediately reply: "Brilliant, C.E.! Brilliant!"
And they'd even mean it.

Trained by culinary giants such as Paul Bocuse and Paul Haeberlin and then selected by Roger Verge to run the kitchen at Moulin du Mougins, Heller left France to become executive chef at Verge's Cuisine du Soleil in Brasil. After two years, Verge sent him to San Francisco to run Sutter 500. Deciding to stay in California, Heller became co-owner and executive-chef of Fleur de Lys in 1986.
Recently he has opened restaurants in Las Vegas and St. Louis, but Fleur de Lys in San Francisco will always seem, to me, like the jewel in the crown. It was the first luxury restaurant I visited after moving to California -- and I still love it after all these years.

I was sipping a delicious little cup of his white gazpacho with vanilla oil (pictured and praised here by Pim) when I asked Chef Keller if he'd answer questions for my blog.

1. What is the biggest challenge in running a restaurant as elegant and beloved as Fleur de Lys?

Over the last 20 years the dining public has changed. Twenty years ago there was a different expectation than that of the diners today. To find the balance between classic and fresh in order to satisfy both expectations not only has been a challenge but it's also been part of the excitement of the business which we've embraced as our life.

2. I know you were in Alsace earlier this year to celebrate your mother's 80th birthday. What did you cook for her while you were there?

Cooking for my mom is such a challenge that I prefer to take her out to friends' restaurants. Of course the most important thing was to be with her to celebrate her 80th, with the entire family. She was so, so happy.
[Chantal Keller added: "Even though HK is a chef, his mom will always tell him how to do things in the kitchen...really funny when you watch them."]

3. What is the most important thing you learned from Roger Verge about running a kitchen?

From Roger Verge I discovered a very colorful and happy cuisine, but also how to manage a 3-stars Michelin kitchen and to turn out a great food cost.

4. Your PBS series, "Secrets of a Chef," was delightful. When will we see new episodes?

We just finished filming at Jeriko Winery; now we have to do Las Vegas and St Louis. We double from 13 to 26 episodes. The new episodes will air in the fall, 2008.

Margin Note: Keller's web site has an extensive collection of recipes from earlier episodes of "Secrets of a Chef."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Loving Lola

Last week I made a quick trip to Dallas, Phoenix and Barcelona.
OK, I lied about the Barcelona part. But the dinner I had at Lola Tapas in Phoenix was so evocative of my favorite Spanish city I kept turning to J and saying, "I love this place. I LOVE this place."

Housed in a tiny building, the interior is dark and cozy, with a pressed tin ceiling and a large, charming photo of the owner's daughter, Lola, on the far wall. All the seating is communal: most of it at two long wooden tables. Co-owner and co-chef Felicia Ruiz Wayne told me she and her husband, Daniel, consider the table-sharing as important as the food: "When we lived in Europe for a year, we loved the way many casual restaurants felt like family gatherings. Sometimes people come here early and sit at the far end of a table so they can be private, but as the restaurant fills up, they soon find themselves talking and laughing with strangers."

Of course they do. The food is so delicious you soon find yourself bonding with your tablemates over the excellence of the garlic shrimp or the lusciousness of the Tetilla cheese blended with honey and reserva sherry vinegar.
"We get everything possible from Spain," Ruiz Wayne told me. "The olive oil, the sausages, the cheese, the olives."
The menu is limited to nine tapas plus two especials del dia. J and I pretty much ran the list -- twas more than we needed, but since we don't get to Phoenix -- or Barcelona -- nearly often enough, we embraced our inner gluttons.

The following recipe comes not from Lola Tapas but from the Spanish city of Merida, via the superb "Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain" by Penelope Casas. I served this at a housewarming and even though it isn't the most attractive dish (in fact, it looks a bit like a dog's dinner), my guests raved.

Sausages with Sweet-Sour Figs

Prepare the figs one day in advance
1 cup sugar
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 stick cinnamon
4 cloves
1 slice lemon
1 pound fresh small figs or 1 pound bottled figs in syrup, drained

Combine sugar, vinegar, cinnamon, cloves and lemon in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Add the figs, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes if using fresh figs, just five minutes for bottled. Cool the figs in the syrup and let them sit, covered, at room temperature overnight.
The next day, cook 1 and a half pounds sausage (I use sweet Italian) in 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 tablespoons white wine until the wine evaporates and the sausages are cooked and brown. Remove them to a warm platter and pour off most of the fat. Deglaze the pan with 4 tablespoons water and two more tablespoons of wine. Add 2 teaspoons of tomato sauce, salt and pepper and simmer, uncovered, for two minutes.
Drain the figs and discard the syrup. Add them to the pan, along with the sausages. Cover and cook briefly until the figs are heated. To serve, cut each sausage into 3 or 4 slices. Cut the figs in halves or quarters, depending on their size. Spear pieces of sausage and fig on toothpick and transfer them with the sauce to a serving dish. These can be assembled in advance and reheated, covered, when ready to serve.

Monday, March 24, 2008

"K.S., Call Home."

I miss Kim Severson.
Oh, I know she writes regularly -- and wonderfully -- for the New York Times, but I miss her days on staff at the San Francisco Chronicle when she wrote about restaurants and chefs and food purvveyors closer to me, me, me.
If you don't know Severson's work, you'll find a terrific example of it in the recently published "Best Food Writing 2007." These yearly compendiums edited by Holly Hughes always contain treasures, and this one also includes pieces by some of my other favorite food writers: Colman Andrews, Daniel Patterson, John Thorne and the always fabulous Mr. Bourdain.

Severson's piece, "A Grandchild of Italy Cracks the Spaghetti Code," focuses her considerable investigative skills on her own family's cooking traditions and opens with these wonderful lines:
My Italian is so bad I have a hard time pronouncing gnocchi, but I grew up hearing enough of it to know when I'm being yelled at. And that's definitely what was happening at a table in a small roadside restaurant in Abruzzi.

Makes you want to keep reading, doesn't it?
The opening of Bourdain's "My Miami," on the other hand, made me want to stop reading for a minute and go punch a wall out of sheer writerly jealousy:
Like a heat-seeking missile, I can find my way to the finest steamed shark's head in Singapore or the best bun cha in Hanoi. Blindfolded, with one wrist cuffed to an ankle, I can drive you to the earthiest pig's foot-soup in the Dutch West Indies, or to the world's most sublime soup dumplings in Taipei. But in Miami, one of the most international of cities, I am pathetically up a creek.

[Hughes writes in her headnote to the Bourdain piece: "the man can craft a sentence," which is like saying that Thomas Kellar can craft a custard or Pierre Herme can craft a macaron.]
In my perfect reading-about-food world Tony Bourdain would keep a pied-a-terre in San Francisco to hang out in between travels and Kim Severson would move back to the Bay Area, never again to roam farther away than the Napa Valley or Carmel. At the very least they each could phone me to discuss the matter.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Quick and Easy Irish Soda Bread

My friend Carolyn is one of the smartest, funniest people I know. A fine writer, gifted editor, good golfer and terrific cook, she's also incredibly kind. Correction: the kindness is limited to 364 days a year; on the day of her annual St. Patrick's Day party she turns mean as Cruella De Vil.
Oh, she hides it well. None of her other guests suspects a thing, but that's because they don't ask for the secret of her succulent, sensational corned beef. I tried to get the recipe for all of you but she merely replied: "The secret is that I'll never reveal the secret."
I tried bribery. She collects vintage postcards so I brought her the one pictured above. She'd been insanely busy in the days before the party, so I volunteered to bring my marvelous marinated shrimp for an appetizer. She pronounced the postcard "divine" and the shrimp "delicious." And then she went back to fixing the evening's feast.
Unfortunately the photos I took of her table settings (each of three tables was completely different) turned out either dark, blurry or a combination of both, so I can't show you the beguiling tablescapes she created using her collection of antiques and kitsch. My table included an Antiques Roadshow-worthy multi-tiered epergne crowned with an arrangement of white flowers, vintage silver napkin rings holding shamrock-strewn napkins and some whimsical little figurines of pink pigs.

Since I can't deliver the recipe for corned beef, I'm sharing my favorite one for Irish Soda Bread. I've adapted this a bit from the "Blueberry Hill Menu Cookbook," Elsie Masterton's sequel to her delightful first cookbook This goes together so quickly, you still have plenty of time to shop for the ingredients and bake it for tonight's dinner.

Irish Soda Bread
(makes 2 small loaves)

Sift together 4 cups sifted all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1/2 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon baking soda.
Mix in with a fork 1 cup currants. Add 2 cups buttermilk and blend with the fork until well mixed.
Flour your hands and knead dough on a floured board until smooth. It won't take more than two minutes of kneading.
Shape into two rounds and place on a greased baking sheet. (Masterton suggests using two heavy black iron frying pans, about 6 or 7 inches in size, but a regular baking sheet works fine.) Let rise in a warm spot for about 10 minutes Then slash the top of each round with a knife, shaping a cross and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes or until lightly browned and dry within.
(Test with a sharp-bladed knife which should be as dry and shiny when it comes out as when thrust into the breads.)
If possible, bake right before serving and serve warm along with some truly great butter.

Fashion postscript: Since my wardrobe is 90% black with an occasional madcap touch of gray, I had nothing green to wear to the party. Armed with a book of stickers and one of my favorite Marni necklaces, I created this. At the time I thought it was rather witty. In the cold light of morning: not nearly so amusing.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Sorrel is Always with Us

The ancient plum tree standing sentry over our vegetable garden is shouting: "Spring is here, Baby!"
The lemon verbena begs to differ.

This weekend: the Official Change from Winter Garden to Spring Garden. Today the beds are mostly empty, waiting for chicken manure enrichment and planting. One broad band of greenery, however, remains. Ever and always we have sorrel.

Through winter rains and summer heat, the sorrel thrives. Would that I knew more ways to use it. I love the flavor but the olive drab color it acquires when heated is more than a little off-putting. Recently I searched one of my favorite cookbooks -- Richard Olney's "Simple French Cooking" -- for sorrel inspiration and found this oddly appealing little luncheon dish. I served it with some slices of Black Forest Ham from the deli and everyone pronounced it delicious, although one friend noted of its combination of khaki-colored cooked sorrel and browned Parmesan: "It looks as if it should be called Eggs in Camouflage."
I punished her by making her tote home a big bag of sorrel leaves.

Eggs Stuffed with Sorrel
(for 4)
1/4 cup olive oil
6 ounces tender young sorrel, stems removed, washed, sponged dry in a towel and finely chopped
6 hard-boiled eggs
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Salt, pepper

Oil the bottom of a gratin dish with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Line with 1/3 of the chopped sorrel and sprinkle lightly with salt. Halve the eggs and, with a fork, mash together the yolks, the remaining sorrel, 3/4 of the cheese and salt and pepper to taste; then work in 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil--enough to bind the mixture. Stuff the halved whites with the mixture, packing gently and mounding the stuffing with a teaspoon. Arrange them on the bed of sorrel, sprinle with the remaining Parmesan, dribble over a bit of olive oil. and bake in a hot oven (400-425 degrees) for about 15 minutes.